Schools and childcare centres are demanding parents put their children on ADHD medication to control their behaviour, but the UN wants our use of it reviewed.
Australia has one of the highest rates of children diagnosed with ADHD in the world and the United Nations has called for an urgent review and tougher controls on prescriptions.
The UN has expressed serious concern that current diagnosis procedures have resulted in significant increases in psychostimulent drugs in children.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recently examined the health of Australia’s children and said Australia “is among the countries in the world with the highest rate of children aged 5–14 years diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder”.
It also logged its concern that “the number of psychostimulant drugs prescriptions has increased dramatically”.
There were nearly 1.2 million scripts for ADHD drugs in 2018 costing the taxpayer $60.1 million and prescription rates are growing 10 per cent a year.
The number of children using the medications has almost doubled in the last decade from 60,931 in 2009 to 107,345 by 2017.
And some experts estimate 130,000 children used the drugs in 2019.
One in 10 boys is now diagnosed with ADHD and the prevalence is higher in males with just 4.3 per cent of females diagnosed.
The UN has called on Australia to strengthen measures to ensure that psychostimulant drugs are only prescribed to children with ADHD “only as a measure of last resort and only after an individualised assessment of the best interests of that child”.
It wants changes “to ensure also that children and their parents are properly informed about the possible side effects of this medical treatment and about non-medical alternatives”.
University of Adelaide child psychiatrist Professor Jon Jureidini said when a child exhibited inattention there might be 100 different explanations and “we always need to be cautious about giving brain altering drugs to children”.
“It could be deafness, it may be something social, they may be coming to school hungry and need to be fed, there may be violence in the family, they may have a language disorder,” he said.
The fact the UN had drawn attention to Australia’s high medication prescribing rate was important.
“Sometimes it takes somebody from outside to identify these things and draw attention to them,” he said.
Curtin University researcher Dr Martin Whitely, whose study found the youngest children in the class were more likely to be put on ADHD medication said Australia’s use of the drugs was “child abuse plain and simple”.
“The UN is absolutely right to be concerned about this,” he said.
News Corp has previously revealed children as young as three are being prescribed ADHD drugs as childcare centres demand toddlers with behavioural problems are medicated before they will enrol them.
A spokesperson for the Department of Health said “the prescribing of all medications is subject to the patient meeting clinical criteria”.
“The use of all medications come with precautions and risks that need to be weighed against the benefits.
To support clinicians with decisions regarding ADHD diagnosis and treatment, the Australian Government has funded the ADHD Professionals Association (AADPA) $1.5 million over three years from 2018-19 to promote evidence-based research, treatment and management of ADHD, the department said.